HORROR TV YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: MST3K: THE RETURN (2017)

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MST3K: THE RETURN (2017)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Mystery Science Theater 3000 was created by Joel Hodgson and originally ran for ten seasons from 1988 till 1999 and was a beloved show for movie geeks everywhere, as it playfully skewered some of the worst cult classics and B-movies of all kinds. The format had a working stiff (originally series creator Joel Hodgson and then Mike Nelson) being kidnapped to a satellite in space and forced to watch some of the worst films ever made. The subject and a group of robots would then comment on these films as the series’ villains observed and routinely tried to make things miserable for our heroes. Fans have missed the show since it’s cancellation and were overjoyed to find out that Netflix was reviving it.

Premiering on Netflix streaming this April, the new series follows the same plot with newcomer Jonah (comedian Jonah Ray) being the newest test subject under the watchful evil eye of Kinga Forrester (Felicia Day), daughter of original series villain Dr. Clayton Forrester and Max (Patton Oswalt), otherwise known as The TV Son of TV’s Frank, offspring of original series villain TV’s Frank. There are fourteen new episodes featuring fourteen bad movies to which our hero, along with robots Gypsy, Tom Servo, Crow and Cam-bot, watch and mock while Kinga and Max do their best to make Jonah crazy…all with mostly hilarious results.

The revived series certainly is a welcome return and, for the most part, can be as funny as the original show. As with all the other seasons, there are some strong and hilarious episodes and some which are just OK. The key here is the movies have to provide the crew with something to work with. The funniest episodes of the new season, such as premiere episode Reptilicus, Time Travelers, Starcrash, The Land That Time Forgot and the season finale At The Earth’s Core all provide material that is ripe for commentary and the writers certainly take the ball and run with it. Then there are movies which are just bad, like Cry Wilderness, the first hour of Beast From Hollow Mountain, Wizards of the Lost Kingdom and Carnival Magic, which are so bad that Jonah and the boys struggle through them to keep the comments coming and funny. If the movie they’re watching is boring, there isn’t much the crew can do. Thankfully, the episodes that do work…and more do than don’t…hilariously make up for the few where laughs and fun are scarce. As with the previous seasons, there are movie geek references galore, such as Kinga’s house band looking delightfully like Infra-Man’s skull soldiers and meta references to previous episodes.

The cast are all having a blast and it shows. Jonah Ray is a suitable replacement for the earlier Joel and Mike. He’s a likable lug and fits the part well. Felicia Day is having a blast as Kinga, a cross between Cruella Deville and Veruca Salt. Day knows how to ad camp in just the right amounts and to dial up just enough villainy so Kinga stays a fun bad girl, like her predecessors and doesn’t tip over into unlikable. Patton Oswalt is equally successful as the bumbling Max…who has a crush on Kinga, which she obviously ignores…and is not quite such a bad guy as his boss lady…though he is trying. The robots’ voice actors all do a good job with instilling them with personality, although they are the same characters from the original show, so they don’t have to work as hard to establish themselves like out new leads. There are also cameos from original series characters and actors and some amusing appearances from famous faces such as Mark Hamill and Jerry Seinfeld.

Overall, this is a very happy return for a personal favorite show. The new cast and characters are likable and fit in with the show’s established style and the old format still works and works well when given material ripe for the picking-on. There are a few yawn inducing episodes, when the movie itself is dull and not even funny in the wrong way, but when the movie is the right kind of bad, the episodes measure up to some of the previous series best on equal footing. Welcome back MST3K!…and when can we expect season 12???

EPISODE LIST

(Rating the show by episode instead of the usual overall rating)

  1. Reptilicus – 3 and 1/2 stars
  2. Cry Wilderness – 2 and 1/2 stars
  3. Time Travelers – 3 and 1/2 stars
  4. Avalanche – 2 and 1/2 stars
  5. The Beast of Hollow Mountain – 3 stars…the last 1/2 hour was very funny
  6. Starcrash – 3 and 1/2 stars
  7. The Land That Time Forgot – 3 and 1/2 stars
  8. The Loves Of Hercules – 3 stars
  9. Yongary – 3 and 1/2 stars
  10. Wizards of the Lost Kingdom – 2 and 1/2 stars
  11. Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II – 3 stars
  12. Carnival Magic – 2 and 1/2 stars
  13. The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t – 2 and 1/2 stars
  14. At the Earth’s Core – 3 and 1/2 stars

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: GRANDMA and FREAKS OF NATURE

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GRANDMA (2015)

Written and directed by Paul Weitz, Grandma tells the story of cantankerous Elle Reid (Lily Tomlin), an aging lesbian poet who has just ended a relationship with a younger woman (Judy Greer). On that same day she gets a visit from her granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner)…obviously, Elle was married once…who needs over $600 for an abortion. The penniless Elle now begins a trek across L.A. to see friends, her ex-husband and ultimately, Sage’s mother, trying to raise the cash for her granddaughter’s procedure and unintentionally raising a little hell and learning something about herself, as well.

The performances in this flick are first rate, with Tomlin ruling the roost with her angry, volatile Elle and the film is well directed with some snappy dialog. It’s the story that fails to really involve the audience as it’s a just another ‘angry eccentric learning something about themselves’ flick. The film also tries way too hard to have all it’s liberal and indie film pieces in place with it’s story of an eccentric, lesbian poet helping her granddaughter get a *gasp* abortion story. It thinks it’s daring, but clear away the controversial topic and it’s just another journey of self-discovery movie about someone realizing they have let their inner pain sully their life. Elle is an interesting character, but one we’ve seen before, who comes to the same realizations that these types of grumpy characters usually do. Adding a pro-abortion element doesn’t make it any more new or daring. Also stars Sam Elliott and Marcia Gay Harden as Elle’s ex-husband and daughter respectively.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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FREAKS OF NATURE (2015)

Dumb and dull horror/comedy takes place in the town of Dillford, renown for it’s rib sandwiches. Also, the community is made up of a mix of humans, vampires and zombies living in an uneasy harmony. When an alien spacecraft arrives, it creates a panic, which in-turn reignites old rivalries. As human, vampire and zombie are once again at each other’s throats, three high school kids, human Dag (Nicholas Braun), vampire Petra (Mackenzie Davis) and zombie Ned (Josh Fadem), are forced to work together to save all from the alien invasion.

This is a silly flick with a very convoluted concept and plot, that could have worked in more capable hands. It all boils down to the same “we can live together despite our differences” message we have seen so many times before and a bland use of it’s oddball story set-up. The film is goofy and gory and that would certainly be fine if it were also clever and funny. It’s just a bunch of ideas thrown in a blender with a half hour plot dragged out over 90 minutes. The action stops for long periods of character moping and once it’s over, you realize it went exactly where you expected it to from scene one. The SPFX are surprisingly good, as is the gore and at least the cast gets the tone of the weak material. As directed  by Robbie Pickering and written by Oren Uziel, the film is basically a ho-hum mess, whereas somewhere inside it there might have been a fun midnight movie buried under all the mediocrity. Also stars Denis Leary, Joan Cusack, Patton Oswalt and the yummy Vanessa Hudgens as Dag’s hopeless pursuit turned vampire vixen.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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